Minds and Machines

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 47–68 | Cite as

Concepts: Stored or Created?



Are concepts stable entities, unchanged from context to context? Or rather are they context-dependent structures, created on the fly? We argue that this does not constitute a genuine dilemma. Our main thesis is that the more a pattern of features is general and shared, the more it qualifies as a concept. Contextualists have not shown that conceptual structures lack a stable, general core, acting as an attractor on idiosyncratic information. What they have done instead is to give a contribution to the comprehension of how conceptual structure organized around such a stable core can produce contextually appropriate representations on demand.


Concepts Context Categorization Prototypes 


  1. Armstrong, S. L., Gleitman, L. R., & Gleitman, H. (1983). What some concepts might not be. Cognition, 13, 263–308. doi: 10.1016/0010-0277(83)90012-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barsalou, L. W. (1985). Ideals, central tendency, and frequency of instantiation as determinants of graded structure in categories. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 11, 629–654. doi: 10.1037/0278-7393.11.1-4.629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barsalou, L. W. (1987). The instability of graded structure: Implications for the nature of concepts. In U. Neisser (Ed.), Concepts and conceptual development: Ecological and intellectual factors in categorization (pp. 101–140). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Barsalou, L. W. (1993). Flexibility, structure, and linguistic vagary in concepts: Manifestations of a compositional system of perceptual symbols. In A. F. Collins, S. E. Gathercole, M. A. Conway, & P. E. Morris (Eds.), Theories of memory (pp. 29–101). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  5. Barsalou, L. W. (1999). Perceptual symbol systems. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22, 577–609.Google Scholar
  6. Barsalou, L. (2003). Abstraction in perceptual symbol systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 358, 1177–1187. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2003.1319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Barsalou, L. (2005). Abstraction as dynamic interpretation in perceptual symbol systems. In L. Gershkoff-Stowe & D. Rakison (Eds.), Building object categories (pp. 389–431). Majwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  8. Barsalou, L., & Hale, C. R. (1993). Components of conceptual representations: From feature lists to recursive frames. In I. Van Mechelen, J. Hampton, R. Michalski, & P. Theuns (Eds.), Categories and concepts: Theoretical views and inductive data analysis (pp. 97–144). London, New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  9. Barsalou, L., Simmons, W., Barbey, A., & Wilson, C. (2003). Grounding conceptual knowledge in modality-specific systems. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7, 84–89. doi: 10.1016/S1364-6613(02)00029-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bloom, P. (2002). Mindreading, communication and the learning of names for things. Mind & Language, 17, 37–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Carey, S. (1985). Conceptual change in childhood. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  12. Carston, R. (2002). Thoughts and utterances. London: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Clark, A., & Prinz, J. (2004). Putting concepts to work. Mind & Language, 19, 57–69. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0017.2004.00247.x.Google Scholar
  14. Fodor, J. (1998). Concepts. Where cognitive science went wrong. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Fuster, J. (2003). Cortex and mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Gasser, M., & Smith, L. B. (1998). Learning nouns and adjectives: A connectionist account. Language and Cognitive Processes, 13(2), 269–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gelman, S. A., & Coley, J. (1991). Language and categorization: The acquisition of natural kind terms. In S. A. Gelman & J. P. Byrnes (Eds.), Perspectives on language and thought: Interrelations in development (pp. 146–196). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Gelman, S. A., & Markman, E. M. (1986). Categories and induction in young children. Cognition, 23(3), 183–209. doi: 10.1016/0010-0277(86)90034-X.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Goldberg, A. (2006). Constructions at work. The nature of generalization in language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Hampton, J. A. (1993). Prototype models of concept representation. In I. Van Mechelen, J. Hampton, R. Michalski, & P. Theuns (Eds.), Categories and concepts: Theoretical views and inductive data analysis (pp. 67–95). London, New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  21. Hampton, J. A. (2003). Abstraction and context in concept representation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Theme Issue: ‘The abstraction paths: from experience to concept’, 358, 1251–1259.Google Scholar
  22. Hampton, J. A. (2006). Concepts as prototypes. In B. H. Ross (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (vol. 46, pp. 79–113).Google Scholar
  23. Hampton, J. A., Dubois, D., & Yeh, W. (2006). The effects of pragmatic context on classification in natural categories. Memory & Cognition, 34, 1431–1443.Google Scholar
  24. Kaplan, D. (1989). Demonstratives. In J. Almog, J. Perry, & H. Wettstein (Eds.), Themes from Kaplan (pp. 481–563). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Keil, F. C. (1989). Concepts, kinds, and cognitive development. Cambridge, MA: MIT.Google Scholar
  26. Keil, F.C. (1994). Explanation based constraints on the acquisition of word meaning. Lingua, 92, 169–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kowalski, K., & Zimiles, H. (2006). The relation between children's conceptual functioning with color and color term acquisition. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 94, 301–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Landau, B., Smith, L., & Jones, S. (1998). Object perception and object naming in early development. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2(1), 19–24. doi: 10.1016/S1364-6613(97)01111-X.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mandler, J. (2004). The foundations of mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. McClelland, J., McNaughton, B., & O’Reilly, R. (1995). Why there are complementary learning systems in the hippocampus and neocortex: Insights from the successes and failures of connectionist models of learning and memory. Psychological Review, 102, 419–457. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.102.3.419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. McClelland, J. L., & Rumelhart, D. E. (1985). Distributed memory and the representation of general and specific information. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 114, 159–197. doi: 10.1037/0096-3445.114.2.159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Millikan, R. G. (2000). On clear and confused ideas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Murphy, G. L. (1993). Theories and concept formation. In I. Van Mechelen, J. Hampton, R. Michalski, & P. Theuns (Eds.), Categories and concepts: Theoretical views and inductive data analysis (pp. 173–200). London and New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  34. Murphy, G. L. (2002). The big book of concepts. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  35. Murphy, G. L., & Medin, D. L. (1985). The role of theories in conceptual coherence. Psychological Review, 92, 289–316. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.92.3.289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Plebe, A., & Domenella, R. G. (2006). Early development of visual recognition. Bio Systems, 86, 63–74. doi: 10.1016/j.biosystems.2006.02.018.Google Scholar
  37. Rey, G. (1983). Concepts and stereotypes. Cognition, 15, 237–262. doi: 10.1016/0010-0277(83)90044-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rips, L. (1989). Similarity, typicality and categorization. In S. Vosniadou & A. Ortony (Eds.), Similarity and analogical reasoning (pp. 19–75). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Rogers, T., & McClelland, J. L. (2004). Semantic cognition—a parallel distributed processing approach. Cambridge, MA: MIT.Google Scholar
  40. Rosch, E. (1999). Reclaiming concepts. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6(11–12), 61–77.Google Scholar
  41. Smith, L. (2005). Cognition as a dynamic system: Principles from embodiment. Developmental Review, 25, 278–298. doi: 10.1016/j.dr.2005.11.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Soja, N., Carey, S., & Spelke, E. (1991). Ontological categories guide young children’s inductions of word meaning: Object terms and substance terms. Cognition, 38, 179–211. doi: 10.1016/0010-0277(91)90051-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sperber, D., & Wilson, D. (1995). Relevance: Communication and cognition (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  44. Sperber, D., & Wilson, D. (2002). Pragmatics, modularity and mind-reading. Mind & Language, 17, 3–23. doi: 10.1111/1468-0017.00186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sperber, D., & Wilson, D. (2006). A deflationary account of metaphor. UCL Working Papers in Linguistics, 18, 171–203.Google Scholar
  46. Vega Moreno, R. E. (2004). Metaphor interpretation and emergence. UCL Working Papers in Linguistics, 16, 297–322.Google Scholar
  47. Wisniewski, E. J. (1995). Prior knowledge and functionally relevant features in concept learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 21(2), 449–468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Wilson, D., & Carston, R. (2006). Metaphor, relevance and the ‘emergent property’ issue. Mind & Language, 21, 404–433. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0017.2006.00284.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Wu, L. L., & Barsalou, L. W. (2009). Perceptual simulation in conceptual combination: Evidence from property generation. Acta Psychologica, 132, 173–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Yeh, W., & Barsalou, L. W. (2006). The situated nature of concepts. The American Journal of Psychology, 119, 349–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Cognitive Science, Department of Modern PhilologyUniversity of CataniaCataniaItaly
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Milan – BicoccaMilanItaly

Personalised recommendations